Senator Odell is Chairman of
the Ways and
Means Committee, and
member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development
Committee; Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy
Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight
District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont,
Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury,
Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity,
Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.
The impacts of the global economic recession are part of every discussion in the Senate Finance and Ways and Means Committees as we push to have committee votes at the end of May. Then the full Senate can vote on June 3. Dealing with the economy’s impact on revenues and expenses complicates the budget process.
The economy has struck some of our local businesses and their employees. Every one knows how hard the economic turndown has hurt the auto industry including New Hampshire dealers. Last week, with Chrysler and GM announcing plans for closing hundreds of dealerships across the country, the New Hampshire legislature acted with urgency to provide a “soft landing” and protections for dealers who will be losing their ties to the automobile manufacturers.
The Senate, with a short calendar last Wednesday, was ready to go home around 2 o’clock. But we stayed for two hours waiting for House action on the auto dealers’ bill (SB 153). The lobbyists for the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association did a very good job pushing their bill. In my case, the president of the association met with me. Most importantly, two Claremont dealers, both friends, drove to Concord to meet with me to lay out their personal stories and the hurdles that exist for dealers when they must give up their manufacturer-dealer relationship. Having local long time business leaders come in and explain their situation is a powerful way to personalize the importance of a piece of legislation.
The manufacturers, too, were well represented by trusted lobbyists. What surprised me was the difficult relationship that has developed between dealers and manufacturers. I know it is more complicated than I can lay out here but my dad worked at garages and auto dealers, and in those days there was an aura of mutual support and partnership between dealers and manufacturers. The dealers and manufacturers’ representatives both said the current situation reflected the trying economic times.
The bill was originally introduced on January 8. It was three months later to the day that the Senate passed it on a 22-0 vote. The House worked on it last month and had scheduled committee action for last Thursday. With talk of Chrysler and GM bankruptcies in the air and thousands cancellations of dealer relationships planned across the country, the House picked up speed. The Committee meeting was moved up by two days so the bill could be ready for the House’s Wednesday session.
The bill was not on the calendar so it took
a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules so the House could take up the bill. The vote for the rules suspension was 316-45. An amendment was added on the House floor and then there was a 295-66 roll call vote to pass the bill. After our two hour wait, the Senate voted by voice vote to accept the House’s amendments and the bill was ready for the governor’s signature. He signed it later that day.
Most of us know a neighbor or a friend who works for a New Hampshire automobile dealer. General Motors and Chrysler dealers could learn as early as this week which ones will no longer have a franchise. Hopefully, the quick action by the legislature will help protect our dealers and their employees during the biggest crisis in the more than 100 year history of the automobile industry. Most legislators, I believe, were looking out for our local dealers and our friends and neighbors who work at these dealerships.
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There are other indicators around the State House of how the economy is hitting New Hampshire. Revenues for the fiscal year ending on June 30 will be off a little more than 10% from budget. That equals about $250 million less revenue than planned and gives us a lower revenue base to build on for the upcoming biennium. The Governor and the legislature have taken some actions to reduce expenditures but more needs to be done to end the year close with a balanced budget. And, for sure, there will be no surplus to carry forward to start the new fiscal year.
While revenues are falling below budget and prior year results, caseloads of those who utilize services provided by the state are rising. Senator Sgambati (Laconia) and I serve on a two person subcommittee of the Finance Committee looking into the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services. This department has the biggest budget of any agency in state government. And caseloads are one measure of activity and reflect the amount of money required to meet the cost of benefits in the upcoming budget. Terry Smith, Director of the Division of Family Assistance, reported the number of people eligible to receive food stamps goes up in direct proportion to a decline in the economy. Since July, 2008, the number of people eligible, or caseloads, for food stamps has gone up 20%
with 1,000 new recipients added each month. There are other programs that have growing caseloads, too.
The dilemma for legislators will be to secure revenues to pay the state’s share of these programs with the other funds coming from the federal government. It is tough to cut costs when we have an obligation to those who meet an income or medical criteria and thus qualify for assistance.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951